Local children's needs at forefront of Adoption Awareness

By Megan R. Harrell

STAR STAFF
mharrell@starhq.com

  
Even though strides have been made to increase the number of adoptions in Tennessee, there are over 950 children in the state currently waiting for permanent homes. November has been set aside by the state and Carter County as Adoption Awareness Month to raise support for adoptions, and children in the foster care system.
   The local Department of Children's Services (DCS) and the Foster Care Association work to move children through the system, and to find them permanent homes. There are currently two teams working to finalize adoptions in the upper eight counties of Tennessee. The teams placed 75 children in permanent homes during the 2001 fiscal year and 10 of those adoptions took place in Carter County.
   Laura Anderson oversees all of the adoptions in the region and emphasizes the importance of finding homes for displaced children. "We really need to make the public aware these children need families, and they are good kids. They need families to bring them in and make them feel wanted and loved. That is what they deserve," Anderson said.
   The majority of the children in the system range in age from five to 17 and most have physical, emotional and educational needs. They live in group or foster home settings until they are adopted.
   Patricia Szabo is the Director of the Carter County Foster Care Association, and has a front row seat to view the needs facing children without homes in this region. In addition to her duties as director of the association, Szabo is currently a foster and adoptive mother. She became involved in the system because she wanted to adopt a little girl.
   "I got involved after seeing how many children have been coming into the system that have been sexually, physically, and mentally abused and neglected by their parents," Szabo said. "I couldn't believe how many parents are out there that would do this, so I got involved."
   The Foster Care Association is made up of all the foster parents in Carter County. It works to meet the children's medical and educational needs, and provides them with an array of special activities. It is a non-profit organization that is closely monitored by the DCS.
   Szabo stated there are approximately 40 children currently in foster care in Carter County, and they are in need of the community's help. She said foster homes in the county are getting full, but many times adults don't pay attention to the need for foster parents because they do not feel equipped to do the job.
   The DCS does what it can to help prepare and support potential foster parents. Before parents are approved for the foster program they have to undergo several hours of required training. Each child is also assigned a case worker, and there are other resources available to foster parents if problems arise.
   Even though the job is sometimes difficult, Szabo believes the children are not the only ones who benefit from the foster care program. "If you help one child it is like helping the whole world. It makes you feel so good," Szabo said. "It is hard to let go of the children, but if they are going back to their parents, that is where they belong."
   Members of the community that do not feel they can commit to becoming a foster parent can become involved in other ways. The Foster Care Association along with the Northeast Community Credit Union is sponsoring a Hands of Hope Christmas fund-raiser.
   Anyone wishing to find out more about local adoptions may call 1-877-357-0011, or visit www.state.tn.us/youth/adoptions/. Those interested in helping the Carter County Foster Care Association may call Szabo at 543-2522.